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Three takeaways from No. 9 Maryland men’s basketball’s 78-66 loss to No. 24 Michigan State

Here’s what we realized from a game in which the Terps never held a lead, not even for a second.

Cassius Winston, Michigan State, College Park, 2020

No. 9 Maryland men’s basketball’s Big Ten title hopes were put on hold Saturday, as the team missed an opportunity to clinch a share of the conference championship after it lost to No. 24 Michigan State.

Here’s what stood out from the Terps’ 78-66 defeat at the hands of the Spartans.

1. Three-pointers made a big difference for both sides

By this point of the season, Maryland’s struggles in shooting the ball from beyond the arc are extremely evident. And against the Spartans Saturday, those woes continued.

Big man-turned-sharpshooter Jalen Smith had a good night, making his only two attempts from long range — both of which came when the Terps were hoping to halt a Michigan State run — on the way to a 20-point, 12-rebound performance.

And freshman Donta Scott put together yet another solid showing, going 2-of-4 from deep in a 10-point outing — his fourth consecutive game in double-figures.

But the rest of the team couldn’t follow suit. Outside of the starting big men, Maryland went just 2-of-14 on three-pointers, struggling to find an offensive rhythm at every turn. Anthony Cowan Jr. missed all three of his attempts, and so did Eric Ayala. Aaron Wiggins didn’t hit any of his four attempts, either.

It wasn’t as if every look was contested, either. The Terps were able to get a good amount of open opportunities throughout the night, but the ball wasn’t falling through the bottom of the net with any regularity whatsoever.

Overall, Maryland finished with six makes on 20 attempts, which equates to a 30 percent clip. On the year, the team has now made just 31.4 percent of its threes, ranking 11th in the Big Ten and 268th in the nation.

Michigan State, meanwhile, nailed seven threes in the first half and five in the second, finishing a solid 12-of-28 from deep. And a good amount of those came on second-chance opportunities, as the Spartans’ propensity for offensive rebounding was a huge factor in the outcome of Saturday’s game.

“Today was just their day. Everything that could go right for them went right,” Smith said. “They were hitting shots, they were getting offensive rebounds over us. Props up to them because they didn’t miss a shot.”

If the Terps are going to go far in March, they’re going to need to figure things out from beyond the arc — at least a little more than they have thus far. And that will especially be the case if the opposition finds a way to nail three-pointers the way Michigan State did.

2. Anthony Cowan Jr. struggled once again

Entering Saturday’s game, Cowan was coming off arguably his worst two-game shooting stretch of the season. Against Ohio State and Minnesota, the senior point guard combined for just 20 points on 3-of-19 shooting (0-of-9 from deep), though he did have a sparkling 16:4 assist-to-turnover ratio.

For the most part this year, the Terps have gone as far as Cowan took them. There were instances in which Jalen Smith’s dominant play was enough to carry the team through a tough night for Cowan, but when the eighth-most prolific scorer in program history gets the job done, Maryland usually wins.

That didn’t happen against the Spartans.

Cowan missed his first three shots of the night, a sign of what was to come the rest of the way. By halftime, he had just six points on 3-of-10 shooting, missing both his three-point attempts and turning the ball over twice. At the break, the Terps trailed 40-29 — their third straight halftime deficit.

“I mean, I had shots,” Cowan said. “Everybody been playing pretty good defense. I gotta figure it out.”

After the break, Cowan started to find a groove, at least somewhat. He scored seven points in the half on 3-of-5 shooting, though he didn’t hit a three and turned the ball over two more times. On the night, Cowan finished with a modest 13 points on 6-of-15 shooting with three assists and four turnovers.

“Yeah, he was frustrated. And he’s just got to play the way he’s played all year,” Turgeon said. “Anthony’s been great. He’s a warrior. Just wasn’t his night.”

After the latest performance — and 0-of-3 showing from downtown — Cowan has now failed to hit a triple since the first half of the game against Northwestern on Feb. 18, missing 15 straight attempts. If he can’t it going soon, Maryland could be in danger of its season ending earlier than expected.

“He’s our leader, we always gonna have his back,” Scott said. “So if he’s having a bad shooting night or anything like that, we’re always going to pick him up.”

3. The rotation got shaken up once again

Against Ohio State last Sunday, Turgeon threw a wrench into the usual mix of players utilized. Regular rotation pieces Ricky Lindo Jr. and Serrel Smith Jr. were essentially shut out, playing just over two minutes combined. And Chol Marial and Hakim Hart were surprisingly given minutes, playing 11 and five, respectively.

In the thrilling win over Minnesota last Wednesday, Hart’s minutes nearly doubled — he played nine — while Joshua Tomaic served as the eighth-man in the rotation, playing six minutes down low. Lindo got bumped up to four minutes that game, but Marial was dropped all the way down to just a pair.

The seemingly disorganized way of doling out playing time left Saturday’s rotation a relative mystery pregame, and Turgeon mixed things up yet again. Outside of the top-six — the starting five plus Wiggins — only two other players saw the court for even a second: Hart and Lindo.

The Philadelphia freshman played well, scoring five points — his most since Nov. 16 against Oakland (the second game of the season) — on 2-of-4 shooting, while splitting his two three-point attempts. He also finished a plus-three on the night, tying Wiggins for a team-high.

Coming into play Saturday, Lindo was in a bit of a slide. Through the Indiana game on Jan. 26, he was averaging 8.1 minutes per game, serving as frontcourt depth behind Smith and Scott. But beginning with the Iowa game on Jan. 30, Lindo’s minutes were slashed by more than half, now averaging just 3.2 minutes per contest.

That didn’t stop him from making an impact against the Spartans. Primarily playing backup to Smith, Lindo showed out — relatively speaking, at least — scoring three points on just one field goal attempt, a three-point make. It was his most points scored since the Indiana game.

He also secured four rebounds and picked up a steal, making plays on both ends of the court in his eight minutes of work.

“It’s amazing because every practice, Ricky is one of our best practice players,” Smith said. “I told him right when the game was over — we were sitting in the locker room — I told him it was great to see him build his confidence today. ... In this big game, went and did it like another normal game. So I gave him props for that and just told him to keep fighting.”

Saturday’s game showed Turgeon still has work to do when it comes to setting a rotation, but positive contributions from Hart and Lindo are a good sign moving forward.

“Hakim Hart gave up good minutes tonight. He’s feeling a little bit more comfortable — made a three, which is good. And Ricky Lindo’s minutes were terrific,” Turgeon said. “It’ll be a different animal, we play on Tuesday [against Rutgers]. So maybe we go a little bit deeper with our bench, but we’ll see.”